The gnomes are one of two people of modern Azeroth who can lay claim to being the most intelligent, most adept with technology, most innovative of the mortal races. Unlike their goblin rivals, however, the gnomes are not materialists in the sense of always seeking a means to profit - their mindset is far more exploratory. A goblin looks at a situation and bends her mind to determine how best to exploit it, while a gnome seeks to learn how it works. And in a way, the gnome is far more dangerous, because they're never satisfied.
Consider this - the gnomes invented a weapon so destructive it rendered their own city unlivable for years. Even today, Gnomeregan isn't fully recovered. This radiation bomb (the work of Sicco Thermaplugg, the ambitious madman who once ruled Gnomeregan in its fallen state after Gelbin Mekkatorque led those gnomes he could out of the city) is proof positive of just how terrifying gnomish ingenuity can really be. Unlike the mana bomb Garrosh Hellscream used on Theramore, the radiation bomb doesn't destroy building - it kills without ruining structures. Furthermore, the mana bomb was a discovery, created by blood elves serving Kael'thas Sunstrider who had the chance to study naaru technology in Tempest Keep, but the radiation bomb was entirely a gnomish invention. From their origins as a titan created construct race, the gnomes have persevered through to the modern day as a clever, resourceful, inventive people. But Sicco Thermaplugg also shows that gnomes can be treacherous, deceitful, arrogant and even contemptuous of others.
Now, following the Siege of Orgrimmar, is there any limit to what the gnomes can achieve?
When the Alliance in its current form banded together following the Third War, the gnomes were a dispossessed people, cast out of their home city of Gnomeregan. Many of them had died to Sicco Thermaplugg's twisted ambitions and arrogance.
Thermaplugg had dreamed of becoming High Tinker, and from there, becoming the first king the gnomes had known in 400 years. He dreamed further. He wanted to reclaim (or just claim) all of Dun Morogh, 'encouraging' the dwarves to settle elsewhere. He dreamed of a gnomish empire ruling Azeroth. But his dreams of conquest were foiled when his old friend Gelbin Mekkatorque was chosen for High Tinker instead of him, and he plotted and schemed to make his own people pay for their lack of vision. In the end, he got his revenge - a horrible, pyrrhic victory that left him the insane ruler of a city of the mad, the dead, and the troggs.
In the past decade, they've made great strides as part of the Alliance, but no gnome has forgotten what they suffered. So many died, and those that survived within Gnomeregan itself were often twisted into deranged leper gnomes (like Thermaplugg himself). Even today, Gnomeregan hasn't been fully reclaimed.
As a result of the distraction of Gelbin Mekkatorque, the gnomes haven't always been on the front lines of the Horde/Alliance conflict. But that's begun to change in recent years. Gnomes served with pride in the Alliance military that pushed its way into Northrend, helping maintain its aircraft and siege weapons and serving as infiltrators for its push into Icecrown. It was a gnome who made the first discover of the true nature of Saronite. And now, with the push into Pandaria and the siege of Orgrimmar, gnomes have again stepped up and helped lead the way. Gelbin himself led gnome forces in the push into Garrosh's underground bunker, and as a result, Gelbin and his people were on hand to study the technology that Garrosh's forces had created as well as stolen from Titan caches - and remember, gnomes are Titan technology, when you come right down to it.
We spend so much time focused on the gnome's diminutive size that we often forget their intense and incredible intellects - gnomes learned to use healing magic simply by applying themselves to study it. Gnomes now at last have both priests who can in some fashion use the Holy Light and monks who can tap into mystical forces of balance and chi to heal. This adaptability of mind and gift for arcane magic as well as engineering means that gnomes are in an excellent position as we travel through the portal to Draenor, because they are the ones most likely to understand what the Iron Horde can do, and come up with ways to counter it. Remember, gnomes settled Toshley Station in Outland - they're hardly afraid to explore a new world.
Another way to put it is this - there's a reason one of the most famous of the Bronze Dragonflight likes to appear as a gnome.
The larger folk of Azeroth often underestimate and disparage the gnomes, but they don't waste their time caring about that. They've survived a tragedy on the same scale as the one that destroyed Silvermoon, and came out the other side just as committed to the gnomish way of life as they ever were. Gnomes don't whine a lot, in general - when presented with a problem, they roll up their sleeves and began thinking about solutions. And it is this relentlessness that is the true secret to their potential. Gnomes don't give up.
This is why I'm so fascinated with the denouement of the siege, and the gnomish position therein. Gelbin Mekkatorque says that he and his people are going to grab as much goblin technology as they can get their hands on, but one is reminded that not all the goblin tech is goblin tech - the chest of spoils used a Titan security system. What will the gnomes do with it? And one has to note that over the course of the past few years, Gelbin has become an extremely proactive leader - taking part in the council of Alliance leaders before the Cataclysm itself, traveling to Darnassus to take part in the vote on the admittance of the Gilneans, and even participating in the battle strategy after the destruction of Theramore. In part this seems to be based around the reclaiming of the surface areas of Gnomeregan and the incident with Thermaplugg that left Gelbin's former friend literally cut in half. Mekkatorque has done what gnomes do - he's taken his problem (his guilt over the loss of Gnomeregan) and turned his mind towards finding solutions for himself as well as his people and the Alliance.
Now imagine Mekkatorque and his people in the future. They've been so proactive lately, one can hardly imagine they're going to sit the Iron Horde invasion out. No, as brave and adventurous as gnomes are, they're going to go through that portal and take the fight to the enemy... and frankly, at least a little they're going to be going to see how these foundries work, to catalog any new technology or strange magic the Iron Horde may be using. And remember, Draenor will have plenty of new things to explore, including possibly an offshoot of their own people.
Now, consider this - by now, the gnomes have had a chance to study ethereum technology, goblin technology, Titan technology (both from mechagnomes like Gearmaster Mechazod and those relics found in Pandaria) and soon, they'll have a chance to see what orcs can do with designs created by goblins. Remember, gnomes study things for the sake of understanding them. What will they learn on Draenor? And to what use will they put it?
I'm very interested to see where the gnomes go from here. Thermaplugg's plans for conquest may have been too small for them. There are, after all, entire worlds to explore, and for a gnome, understanding is far more interesting than conquest... and much more sure.
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.